After a week on antibiotics, Jane’s bronchitis is worse
than ever. Her eyes have a dull glint, she’s breathing rapidly, and her
coughing now has a weird gurgling sound.
“I’m so nervous,” says Carla, as she squeezes a bulb of
medicine into Jane’s mouth.
I’m nervous, too. I envision her tiny lungs clogging up
with fluid. I wish we were back in Los Angeles, instead of on this rainy,
speck-sized jungle island thousands of miles from home.
“Let’s take her to the clinic,” I say.
Carla wraps Jane in a blanket, and I hold an umbrella
against the downpour as we get into the car.
The clinic has a low ceiling and dim lighting. The floor
is wet. Carla tells the woman behind the counter that Jane is sick, and asks if
someone can look at her. The woman stares at us, as if Carla is speaking in
tongues. Carla tries again. Finally, the woman tells us to take Jane to the
hospital, since they have a real pediatrician there.
The Rarotonga hospital is on top of a mountain, on the
opposite end of the island from where we live. An old-fashioned ambulance, the
kind that looks like a hearse, is parked next to the entrance with its side
door open, ready for action. It contains a rickety cot and antiquated medical
Near the entrance, a large older woman sits on a metal
chair, wearing a church hat. Whenever the phone rings, she reaches inside an
open window to answer it.
The walls in the lobby are covered in black grime, and the
windows are cracked. Eight or nine people sit in molded plastic chairs. The low
table in the middle of the room is covered with a faded piece of cloth, on
which sit a few old medical journals and a report on vaccinations from the
World Health Organization. While we’re waiting, a little boy keeps coming up to
us, sticking out his tongue and gagging with his hands wrapped around his neck,
as if he is strangling himself. His nose is running, so I try to keep my
distance from him.
After 20 minutes, a doctor comes in and tells us to follow
him. He lays Jane on a cot and checks her heart, throat and chest. He tells us
that Jane has pneumonia “on the periphery.” He asks us how much Jane weighs so
he can determine her medicine dosage. We don’t know — we haven’t weighed her
since we left the States last June. The doctor leads us into another room. There’s
an old bathroom scale on the floor. Of course, the baby can’t stand on it, so
Carla holds her and steps on the scale. The scale’s readout doesn’t work, but
the doctor knows what to do. He stomps on it, and then kicks it hard a few
times, until it blinks into life. Then Carla hands the baby to me, and the
doctor subtracts the difference.
The doctor prescribes an expectorant, and takes us to a
room the size of a broom closet where we wait to pick up the medicine. He also
tells us to continue the antibiotics that the other doctor gave us.
“But it doesn’t seem to be working,” I say. “She’s been on
them for a week, and she’s getting worse.”
“Give it some time,” he says.
I don’t want to give it time. All I can think about right
now is getting off this island.